A scheme to target “networks” of predators and protect children from sexual crimes has launched in the north of Scotland.
The new service, Rise (Reducing The Impact Of Sexual Exploitation) Highlands, is bringing together four organisations to help young people and their families.
A child sexual exploitation (CSE) advisor from charity Barnardo’s will now be set up at the Inverness police headquarters to support frontline officers dealing with such cases.
They will also work with Highland Child Protection Committee and Highland Council, and help to train others, as part of a united front to combat sexual crimes.
It is hoped the move will help “identify and disrupt perpetrators and their networks”, while protecting current victims and preventing crimes against others.
‘Children may be too afraid to ask for help’
Barnardo’s said the move has been launched in response to CSE detected in the Highlands – which many people previously were unaware of.
In 2019, it launched a first-of-its-kind study into public awareness of the issue, finding the “but it doesn’t happen here” mentality is prevalent throughout Scotland.
It also found those in the Highlands were “considerably” more likely to say it was not a major issue in their local area compared to anywhere else in the country.
Charity bosses fear such attitudes could make youngsters reluctant to seek help – with some potentially unaware of what they are experiencing.
Mhairi Grant, the independent chairwoman of the Highland Child Protection Committee, said: “Children may not realise they are being exploited or may be too afraid to ask for help.
“We need to recognise the signs, listen to young people and take action against perpetrators.”
And Fiona Duncan, Highland Council’s health and social care chief executive, said: “Child sexual exploitation is often hidden, with perpetrators using violence, coercion and intimidation to exert power over children and young people.
“By taking this proactive, multi-agency approach, we aim to reduce risk and ensure the right support is in place to prevent children and young people becoming victims of people who seek to exploit them.”
Effort to form national CSE picture
Rise Highlands will also link-up to a national scheme dedicated to disrupting perpetrators of sexual crimes against children.
Bosses are optimistic it will make a “significant” contribution towards better understanding of just how widespread the issue may be.
Detective Inspector Craig Thomson, who is part of the Highlands and islands child abuse investigation unit, said: “Children across Scotland are being groomed by sexual predators for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
“We also know that children may not realise they are being exploited.
“Building on our strong partnerships across public protection and working within communities to tackle child sexual abuse, including CSE, is key to raising public awareness and preventing children and young people being sexually abused.”
Peter Nield, Barnardo’s Scotland assistant director, said: “Working in partnership with Police Scotland, Highland Child Protection Committee and Highland Council, sharing skills, knowledge and intelligence will provide a coordinated response to CSE.”